I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
But where did Inge go? She sank into the ground, and went down to the Marsh Woman, who is always brewing there.” As in The Red Shoes, it is Inge’s footwear that spells her doom: once she is underground, the loaf of bread is stuck like a lead weight to her foot, bringing her, of course, to the gates of hell. A very fine tale to tell children – what child would not like to see the Inges of the world get their comeuppance! But this loaf has made itself, in a sense, the very opposite of the loafing and inviting one’s soul among the tall grass that Whitman has in mind. The OED gives a rather unbelievable etymology of loaf – it is a “back formation” from loafer, which comes from Landlaeufer, a tramp. The earliest use of loafer according to the Oxford boys is in 1830. Henley and Farmer, in their 1927 slang dictionary, derive it from the French, louper.
From ranging about like a beast to tramping with one’s hands in one’s pocket, this was the image of the loafer in the mouth of the street, from which Whitman took his verb. But in so taking it, he strips it of its desperation – rather, he discovers a tramp Zen in the word. Unlike poor burdened Inge, Whitman loafing among the grass is unburdened and more than unburdened.
I am thinking of these matters of loaf because Adam is, supremely, a loafer – but not a walker, or tramper. He loafs and enjoys his soul not in the grassblades, but in the highly domestic foam bed or the bouncy bouncy or the pousette. Lately, he often tries to force himself up from the chest up – making a stab at the whole homo erectus thing. Poor guy, little does he know the griefs he is bringing on himself by coming out of the loaf and into the rat race. But such is history. Still, as he loafs, lolls, and lounges, I have slowed my own pace somewhat to his. Loafing and being at my ease is no simple thing anymore – magically, a screen or a book appears, and you are no longer inviting your soul but shooing it away. However, prisoner of the entertainment-security complex like all the rest of us, I am getting a small lesson in loafing from Adam. Who, in turn, is moved more and more often to burble a commentary about certain of the things in his line of sight, and certain of the sensations of what seems to be this thing, this loaf, that has legs and feet and arms and hands and is, well, him.